Thanks for being brave enough to ask this question! So many of us are nervous or scared to invite "real life" conversations + I applaud you for being the one to get the ball rolling! There are many reasons why parents walk out on their families, but the root of all of these reasons (I believe) is pain. Let's think about several different situations that most likely come to mind when you think of an absentee parent:
Sticky Sitch. # 1 | Person didn't feel adequate or strong enough to handle parenting.
Sticky Sitch. #2 | Person was struggling with a mental illness
Sticky Sitch. #3 | Person was addicted to drugs and/or alcohol
Sticky Sitch. #4 | Person was involved in illegal act and needed to abandon their family for safety or to avoid consequences
Sticky Sitch. #1 | This person probably felt inadequate or weak, because they were struggling with a specific stressor at the time. This is not to say that the stressor would have gone away from abandoning the family, but perhaps the person lost all desire to hold on to hope or fight for much of anything in life. Need an example? If the relationship is not working between the parents, it weighs heavily on all the surrounding relationships.
If you don't have a support system, it can be difficult to separate one incident from another. If your relationship with your spouse is not working, it doesn't mean your relationship with the kids will be bad as well. You can still pour into the relationships with them. If they have witnessed specific verbally/physically aggressive confrontation, they will most likely have an opinion about it. However, it does not completely diminish the opportunity to mend your relationship with them. See how this response is rooted in pain? Perhaps this parent did all they knew to do or felt like they could do at the time.
Sticky sitch #2 | This parent is most likely struggling to cope with reality. Parenting with a mental illness is challenging! Life in itself is such a roller coaster, so when you throw in a hormonal imbalance or a mental illness - it really shakes things up! The specific mental illness + support system determine the ability to handle stressors. Say what Seida? I hear you! Let me give you an example: a Dad with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder is much different than a mom with Borderline Personality Disorder. How? For starters, the symptoms of the disorder vary greatly.
A person with ADHD may lose focus easily in specific circumstances and may frequently lose important items. While a person with Borderline Personality Disorder will have severe fluctuations of emotions. They can flip between seeing their spouse as the sweetest person in the world to the most hateful person in the world in an instant. These are 2 distinctly different types of parents. However, a parent struggling to manage a mental illness is also most likely in pain when they come to realize just how hectic things may have gotten.
Sticky sitch. #3 | I want to be clear in this post, that when we are discussing drinking and/or drugs I am not referring to "social drinkers" that have a drink every once in a while. I am talking about those who frequently engage in using elicit drugs and/or alcohol. The use elicit drugs and/or alcohol might start off as "fun" or "testing the waters" but it can quickly escalate to a negative coping pattern. Many people who use drugs and/or alcohol do so to escape reality, much like other examples listed above. There is pain, a conflict or issue they are avoiding dealing with or may not know how to handle. Self medicating seems like a better option. After a while, self medicating seems like the only viable option. Unfortunately at this point, it will most likely become the most important thing in the person's life.
Sticky Sitch. #4 | No this is not a movie. No I am not being dramatic. Yes this happens in real life! Think back to all the choices you have made in your life so far....go on.... I'll wait..... Do you regret any of them? I'm sure, if you're being honest, the answer was yes. Sometimes life throws us curve balls and we do what we can with what we're given. This could mean that instead of getting beat up 2-3 times a week on the walk home from school by a gang whose neighborhood you walk through - you join the rival gang so that you're protected.
It seems like a smart option at the time; however, years down the line when you want to leave the gang and realize you can't - safety becomes a priority! Do you leave with your family? Do you leave without your family? Do you just disappear and hope your family is safe? Many of us have never had to make choices like this, so it's hard to immediately say what you would do in that situation.
I am not trying to give you blanket excuses or mull over your pain if your parent walked out on you. Understand that I am so very sorry you had to experience that pain + I'm sorry if you still experience that pain! What I am saying is that before you listen to Aunt Carol + them about what a low life your Mama is for leaving you -- perhaps try to find out for yourself the reason she left. Before you write off all men as dogs because your Daddy was never there for you - find a neutral party to help walk you through your pain.
You might not think it's important to do this, but it is. Why? Because one way or another we perpetuate the cycle based on the legacy our parents left us. If my father abandoned me when I was young, I will most likely have intense feelings towards men. Those feelings could either be love struck or spiteful/vindictive attitude towards men. If my mother walked out on me, I could either grow up to abandon my children myself or become extremely over-protective for fear of abandonment since I never addressed those issues.
Perhaps you're not at the point where you are ready to address your absentee parent or you're not mentally in a place where you feel comfortable. If that's you, then I would encourage you to seek counseling, seek support for people who are neutral - don't suffer in silence! Again, thank you for the courage to ask this question! If you want to hear other people's perspectives, I will be posting this question for discussion in the FTHC Tribe Lounge. Until then Dear Reader, I wish you the best of luck on your journey towards healing!